Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

SCADA data: Like Doogie Howser said...

The best thing about it, for the non-engineers and poets among us, is that it rhymes.

A less fanciful pursuit today: Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. When I was in the thick of asking questions about whether the pumps worked, last fall, we had some hurricanes in the Gulf. It occurred to me that they had cameras on the canals; peeling that video would have cost me 10 thousand dollars, they said, in man hours and costs. So I tried for the SCADA data. And got it.

Clearly, you've noticed by now that I'm not an engineer. But when I got the data I could see where the zeros were.To quote Doogie Howser, M.D. for a minute, it doesn't take a genius to see some of SCADA's story. But my aspirations to do something complete in plotting data got dashed pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, engineering is more science than art, after all, and engineers best understand what engineering data does. Maria Garzino also obtained SCADA, and discussed it with the Apariq consultant, Gil Lucas. She spent over a month making calculations from that. I make of that two things: first, that she's still doing everything she believes is necessary to figure out what's happening. And second, that she doesn't sleep much.

My search for engineers to comment on Maria's story went far and wide. I ran into two problems, that the most helpful folks, like Ray Seed at UC Berkeley, said I should expect. In the realm of engineering expertise, this problem sits at the intersection of civil and mechanical; most engineers do not. Academic experts on a piece of the topic can't speak to how projects work in the real world. Folks in the real world tend to work for or with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

H.J. Bosworth helped me, in a way, split the difference. He's a working engineer in New Orleans. He didn't spend a month and a half in the data, but he looked at it, and other documents I have, and read the Apariq report commissioned by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. It's in this context he's able to comment for my story.

As for the SCADA data itself, two additional points. The only operation of gates during those storms happened at 17th street and London Avenue canals. In speaking with the New Orleans office of counsel, we negotiated the release (sounds like a hostage, when I say it that way) of data for those two canals during two storms. During my interview with Ray Newman, canal captain at 17th street, he mentioned that pumps ran for 3 3/4 hours during Orleans. I've seen no paper on that, and he wasn't more specific, so I couldn't report out that statement as well as others he made about the canal on which he worked during storms and works today. Second: more data came for some spreadsheets than others. I don't know what that means; counsel's office said, that's what was there. But it does seem strange that the same canals and same sensors had different amounts of data at different times.